Take a Long Hard Look at your Shelf: Rachel McCrum

Rachel McCrum of Rally & Broad, the Edinburgh cabaret of words, music and lyrical delights, will toast the finale of Jura Unbound on 25 Aug

Feature by Alan Bett | 08 Aug 2014

What’s the most precious book on your shelf? 

I’m sitting here looking at it... it’s Sylvia Plath's collected poems which is incredibly battered, there are pages falling out of it all over the place. It was given to me by two of my best friends on my 18th birthday; it’s got a huge inscription. It came with me to university and ended up being one of the subjects for my dissertation. I think she has this completely unfair reputation as a victim, but she’s not at all if you read the poetry or especially if you listen to recordings of her reading her own poetry, particularly the later stuff. It’s so clipped and so wry, it completely belies how she was painted, this terribly dramatic and tragic story.

What’s the best book on your shelf which has been given to you? 

It’s two copies of Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake, because there was someone I was having a drink with and I happened to mention that I loved it and it was one of the best books I’d ever read, and he was going travelling for a month and worked in a bookshop. Then just before he went these two books arrived in the post for me quite mysteriously, which was lovely... the relationship went absolutely nowhere.

Which book on your shelf would you most like to give to others? For what reason?

There’s one I do tend to lend out quite a lot, and always demand it comes back, which is called Faultlines by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor and it’s just the most brilliant book about women, a really beautiful, joyful novel. I’ve given it to my mother, I’ve given it to my best friend. I tend to give it to women and I've certainly lent it to friends of mine who are learned feminists.

Which book is your guilty secret, and what do you love about it?

Haha – I love Rebus and Ian Rankin, and what I’ve discovered is that it’s the best way to deal with a hangover, if you’ve got a really, really nasty one. What I find myself doing is possibly going out for cheese and orange juice and scouring the local charity shops – because you will inevitably find a good selection of Ian Rankin in Edinburgh charity shops – finding one that I haven’t read yet then just burrowing under the covers for an entire day, it’s brilliant. He’s done something really gorgeous.

Which book has been most inspirational to you, both personally or professionally? 

A biography of Georgia O'Keeffe by a woman called Roxana Robinson; it just deals with the process of somebody becoming an artist, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. It was at a time when I was trying to make a living from poetry and writing and just the steps that you go through to do that. As I was reading it I thought ‘Oh, this is making me think differently about how I look at art, and also what she did to become an artist.’

What book is missing from your shelf that you need to add?

We’ve just moved house and what I’ve discovered is that I’ve got a big pile of books I call the aspirational pile which I’m meaning to get through and is so huge. I’ve got the selected poems of Adrienne Rich called Blood, Bread and Poetry and it’s my priority to get through that, and the other is Kirsty Logan, The Rental Heart, as I got it off her at her launch.

Rally & Broad is on Mon 25 Aug in Edinburgh International Book Festival's Guardian Spiegeltent, as part of Jura Unbound, 9pm, free http://edbookfest.co.uk